West Nile Virus Reaches University
Of Texas Area
By Charlie Greenberg
Daily Texan (U ofTexas-Austin)

U-WIRE) AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services confirmed Monday that the West Nile Virus has spread across Texas to Austin.

A dead blue jay recovered on July 17 from the 2200 block of Forest Bend, located in southwest Austin, tested positive for the virus that first appeared in the United States in New York in 1999.

"No one should be panicked by this information," said Steven Harris, health authority for A/TCHHS. "I would tell anyone in this area there is no cause for alarm."

Results from three other birds have not been completed.

No humans have tested positive for the virus in Austin, Texas, but 10 human cases have been reported statewide, according to the Texas Department of Health. This year, there have been 90 human cases nationwide, including four deaths in Louisiana, the site of the largest West Nile outbreak since 1999.

Birds, mainly blue jays, crows and hawks, carry the virus. Mosquitoes bite the infected birds and then transfer the virus to mammals, most commonly to horses and humans.

"We certainly expect that since we have an infected bird then we have infected mosquitoes in the area," Harris said.

Harris said only 1 percent of the mosquitoes in the state tested positive.

"We saw an increase (in the mosquito population) because of the July rains," said Bob Flocke, public information officer for A/TCHHS. "That seems to be going down now."

Infection is rare, and it usually occurs without symptoms. However, in the 1 percent of cases in which people who are bitten become severely ill, the mortality rate is 10 percent to 12 percent.

When symptoms do occur, they include fever, headache, body aches and swollen lymph nodes. An affected person may confuse the infection with a common flu, Harris said.

County HHS will send out a letter to doctors informing them of the virus' presence and its symptoms.

People can prevent contraction of the West Nile Virus by taking a number of steps. The most effective is the removal of standing water around homes, which serves as spawning grounds for mosquitoes. Other prevention methods include staying indoors during the hours between dusk and dawn.

"If you are going to be outside, wear long-sleeve shirts and pants, or if that is not possible, use a mosquito repellent with DEET," Harris said.

At this time, the county is not recommending spraying for adult mosquitoes because officials believe this is the least effective prevention technique.

TDH said people have the power to stop the virus from spreading to humans and that there is not much reason behind the West Nile fears.

"The main thing we want is to have people do their own monitoring," said Emily Palmer, a spokeswoman for TDH. "Try to avoid mosquitoes if you can, but also try to realize this is a very rare disease."

Health officials insist that if people find dead birds they call animal control at 512-972-6060. They recommend that no one handle the birds, directly as they could transmit the virus if they are infected.

Harris added that the West Nile Virus is not expected to leave the area any time soon.

"So far, in the states that have reported [the virus], it continues to grow and spread," Harris said.

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